January 12, 2018

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Sister Blandina Seagle’s exploits in the Old West

John F. FinkAs I was growing up in Huntington, Ind., we kids went to a western movie every Saturday afternoon at the Tivoli Theater. We watched Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy, the Lone Ranger and Tonto, Red Ryder and Little Beaver, Tim Holt and Johnny Mack Brown. It’s no wonder that I enjoy stories about the Old West.

Therefore, I’ve long enjoyed stories of the exploits of Sister Blandina Seagle. Her cause for canonization is underway.

Born in Italy in 1850, she came to the United States when she was 4 and entered the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati while in her teens. She was sent to Trinidad, Col., a rendezvous for outlaws, when she was only 22. She began the first public school there, and then a private academy and a hospital.

When Sister Blandina wanted something done, she did it. When she arrived in Trinidad, she started her school in a dilapidated adobe hut, and she was determined to build a more adequate structure. At first she didn’t receive any offers of help, and she had no funds. Nevertheless, she took a crowbar and began to demolish the old building by herself. The townspeople soon began to help.

Shortly after she got there, Sister Blandina stopped the lynching of a man who had shot another man. She walked the shooter through the lynch mob to the bedside of the dying man he had shot, persuaded him to seek forgiveness, and then talked the wounded man into forgiving him. The shooter went to trial.

One of the main stories about Sister Blandina was her relationship with Billy the Kid. It was said that she won Billy the Kid’s friendship after she treated a member of his gang who had been shot when no one else would help him. When Billy came into Trinidad planning to kill the doctors who had refused to care for his companion, Sister Blandina met him on the street and talked him out of it.

It later came out, though, that this Billy the Kid was not William Bonney, who was in New Mexico. Sister Blandina didn’t realize that there were two Billy the Kids. The original, and the one she knew, was Arthur Pond, also known as William LeRoy. He eventually was killed by a lynch mob on May 23, 1881. Bonney, the more famous Billy the Kid, was allegedly killed by Sheriff Pat Garrett on July 14, 1881.

On still another occasion, Sister Blandina went out alone, with a crucifix held aloft, to meet some Apache Indians who were about to go on the warpath after a white man had murdered one of their people. She stopped the anticipated warfare.

After years in Trinidad, Sister Blandina was transferred to Santa Fe and then to Albuquerque, N.M., where she continued to display her determination to help the pioneers. In Santa Fe, she begged money from miners and railroad workers to build a three-story hospital. In Albuquerque, she battled the town’s politicians to win funds for her school and hospital.

She eventually was transferred back to Cincinnati where she died in 1941 at age 91. †

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